Now is the season of almonds in Greece! I bought some at the farmers market the other day...fresh, raw, just delicious and super-healthy! They are a very popular ingredient of traditional Greek cooking and baking. There are many ways of enjoying their full taste and nutritional benefits. Almonds are also a very popular ingredient in raw cooking and especially raw desserts like for instance in tart crusts, cookies or energy bars, yummy cakes, raw chocolates etc. Almond flour is often used as a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour in healthy cooking and baking too.
Half of the weight of the sweet almond nut itself comprises of its oil and therefore, it can be extracted in large amounts. Almond oil is light and nutritious with a nutty taste and a high content of vitamin E and also A, B1, B2, B6, as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It is used in cooking and baking, traditional medicine, aromatherapy (as a base oil) and in cosmetics.
Almonds can be also processed into a milk substitute called almond milk; the nut's soft texture, mild flavor, and light coloring (when skinned) make for an efficient analog to dairy milk. Raw, or lightly blanched almonds, result in this yummy, nutritious "raw milk", which is very beneficial for our health!
Unless they are fresh and shelled, it is advised to soak them in water for a few hours or overnight. For optimal absorption of the nutrients in almonds, it is advised to eat them on an empty stomach in combination with dried fruit high in vitamin C, like for instance, cranberries, blueberries, raisins, goji berries.
Here is a list of the nutritional benefits of almonds:
- They are a great source of energy. Manganese, copper and riboflavin found in almonds, help in energy production.
- They are good for the heart and reduce heart attack risk. Almonds contain monounsaturated fat, protein, potassium, vitamin E, magnesium and folic acid, all of which are good for the heart and arteries, and aid in reducing the risk of heart attacks.
- They are rich in protein. 1 cup of almonds contains 20.2 g of protein, which is 40% of the daily value (and they are cholesterol free of course!).
- They regulate cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Studies have shown that regular consumption of almonds helps reduce the level of low density lipoproteins (LDL), while at the same time it increases the level of high density lipoproteins (HDL), balancing out cholesterol levels. Almonds are low in sodium and contain potassium both of which help to regulate blood pressure.
- They are great for the bones and teeth and prevent osteoporosis. Almonds are rich in calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, which are essential for building and maintaining strong teeth and bones. Only about 28 g of almonds contain as much calcium as 1/4 cup of regular milk! So maybe you should think about changing your habits and substitute regular milk with almond milk, which is much easier to digest anyway!
- They prevent cancer. Almonds are low in saturated fat, very rich in vitamin E, which is a strong antioxidant, they also contain phytochemicals (naturally found plant chemicals) and last but not least they contain “amygdalin”, also known as laetrile or vitamin B17, the controversial anti-cancer nutrient. Therefore, they are great in protecting us from diseases and fighting cancer.
- They are great for diabetics (and protect us against diabetes in general). Almonds help in reducing the rise in sugar and insulin levels after meals.
- They reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Two studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggest the antioxidant vitamin E and other antioxidants in nuts, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Almonds are a good choice, as they're higher than any other food in alpha-tocopherol vitamin E, the form of vitamin E that the body absorbs and uses best.
- They are great for pregnant women. They are rich in vitamin E and B, minerals like calcium and magnesium (but also iron, phosphorus, zink, potassium, manganese, selenium and copper) as well as in folic acid, which are essential for a healthy pregnancy. In particular, folic acid assists in reducing the risk of birth defects in newborn babies. In addition to that, almond oil, which is very high in vitamine E, is recommended for pregnant women to apply on their bellies and breasts for the prevention of stretch marks.
- They are great for the brain! Almonds are rich in several nutrients that help in the development of the brain and induce high intellectual levels; thus, they are considered as an essential food item for growing children.
- They assist in weight loss. Eating a handful of almonds everyday can really help in losing weight. The monounsaturated fat in almonds satisfies appetite and prevents over-eating.
- They prevent constipation. Almonds are rich in fiber and are considered a very good laxative (especially when soaked or lightly blanched).
- They are great for the skin and hair. Almond milk is often used in cosmetics and natural beauty care as it improves the complexion of the skin. In addition to that, almond oil is an excellent emollient and very beneficial for the skin and hair. It can be used as a face cleanser, make-up remover, to hydrate and nourish dry skin, to treat and prevent stretch marks, or as a hair mask. In India and other places, it is a tradition to massage new born babies with almond oil.